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A little too familiar

August 07, 2007|By SAVORY SAM

HALFWAY - Step out of the glaring midday sun into the recently opened China Jade near Valley Mall and the mood calms. The mind rests. Here's something familiar.

This is good and bad. China Jade's hushed interior is partly due to the stereotypical Chinese-restaurant-in-America decor - red walls, gold highlights and lots of dark, finished wood - and partly due to low turnout. In two visits, the Sams noticed diners at only five of the 20-odd booths and tables in the dining area.

China Jade is worth a try. The food is predictable but presented well. The decor is uneven but occasionally delightful. Service is warm and prompt. China Jade provides what Americans have come to expect from a Chinese restaurant: inexpensive, stir-fried dishes served in dining rooms highlighted with red and gold touches.

The menu is smaller than that at most Chinese restaurants, but we didn't feel limited. Some dishes are straight out of the stereotypical Chinese restaurant menu - Hunan pork, kung pao Chicken, General Tso's chicken, egg foo yung. There's also a dozen Thai dishes, including penang curry, coconut shrimp, pad Thai.

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But everything seemed sort of familiar.

It's not that Savory Sams have tried everything off the Southeast Asian menu. But we wanted something noteworthy, something that sparkled. The China Jade sign says "Thai Fusion," and we wanted to see Eastern and Western foods coming together in new dishes.

We didn't see that. But we did have a fine evening with well-prepared food.

We didn't wait long for the waitress. And we didn't wait long to order. Fried noodles brought out as a munchie before the appetizer were forgettable, even with two dipping sauces, a hot mustard and a duck sauce.

Not so for the lemon-grass soup, served piping hot and fragrant. Chicken and mushroom slices floated in spicy ginger-coconut milk-chicken broth. One vegetarian nudged aside the tender ribbons of chicken to savor only the broth.

Wonton soup was also delicious - two pork-filled dumplings in a beef broth with a sprinkling of chopped spring onions.

Two of us ordered beers, anticipating spicy food. The beer selection is decent but nearly all light-bodied.

Pad Thai was made to order, after conversation with the attentive waitress, with deep-fried tofu for the vegetarian. We also ordered pedang curry with chicken and Triple Delight - a stir-fry of shrimp, chicken and beef with a scattering of vegetables.

The pad Thai was very satisfying, with plenty of crunchy vegetables contrasting with the dish's soft noodles. The tofu was breaded and deep-fried; the result looked very much like chicken. The vegetarian did a double take, then smiled.

Squeezing a supplied lime over her pad Thai, she said, "Any place that serves lime is pretty good. I could eat like this once a week."

The pedang curry was also good - spicy but not too spicy. The Malaysian-style curry was served with white rice and had plenty of chicken. But diced carrots and peas appeared to have been frozen.

Triple Delight seemed emblematic of the Chinese use of contrast and balance in all things, including cooking. Colorful, crispy vegetables contrast with light, soft ribbons of beef and chicken.

I wanted more spice, so I asked for hot sauce; the waitress brought a small bowl of chopped red chiles.

The dessert menu was a disappointment - short and with almost nothing from Southeast Asia. I can find cheesecake in dozens of restaurants; I wanted something fusion-like.

Overall, our experience was positive. Servings were generous. Ingredients were mostly fresh, although some cost-cutting was evident. Service was quick and watchful but not obtrusive. Prices are reasonable. All this is what Americans have come to expect at Chinese restaurants.

And that's the problem. With so many other Chinese restaurants in the area - a dozen in the Hagerstown area, many with loyal followings - China Jade might not stand out from the chatter.

With a little effort - make the food truly a fusion of East and West - China Jade might shine. For now, it offers a comfortable, familiar glow.




China Jade

3 out of 5 stars

Food: 3 stars
Value: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambience: 3 stars

Address: 106 Railway Lane, Halfway

Hours: China Jade is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Phone: 301-393-4564

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